By now it should be obvious to even the most skeptical and blood-lustful carnivore that plant-based meat products are impressively close to replicating the real thing. But if you’re still not sold on the ability of meatless substitutes to satisfy your cravings for animal flesh while also nudging you closer to a vegan diet, consider hopping on a plane to Dayton, Ohio, next month and grabbing a taste of Taco Bell’s new plant-based carne asada steak, courtesy of Beyond Meat.
The two brands announced on Wednesday that they are testing an all-new protein product for a limited time at participating Dayton-area Taco Bell locations, beginning October 13. Beyond Carne Asada Steak, as the product is called, is the first publicly available offering from Beyond Meat and Taco Bell–the result of a partnership between the meat-substitute company and the restaurant chain’s parent company, Yum Brands.
And it’s absolutely delicious.
To me, the most surprising thing when I bit into a soft taco filled with Beyond Carne Asada Steak at a tasting event in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday morning was the texture, which was neither mushy nor chewy, but rather something in between, firm and even juicy, an experience that cleverly fools the senses if not quite the brain. Believe it, folks, the uncanny valley has never tasted so good.
Representatives from Taco Bell and Beyond Meat say getting that texture right was the most challenging part of creating the proprietary meatless steak, which will only be available at Taco Bell and won’t be part of Beyond Meat’s regular repertoire outside of this partnership.
“We know that consumers are looking for diverse protein options that are better for the planet without compromising on taste,” Dariush Ajami, Beyond Meat’s chief innovation officer, said in a statement.
At the tasting event, the Beyond Carne Asada Steak was featured in three Taco Bell products: a soft taco, a crunch-wrap, and a quesadilla. The plant-free protein was a near-perfect meat substitute in all three menu items–flavorful and skillfully seasoned–proving that the versatility of the Beyond brand knows few limits. For my money, the soft taco was best showcase of the fake steak, in part because it was the simplest of the items and let the product speak for itself.
The meatless steak will be available in a quesadilla for the Dayton test, priced the same as a traditional steak quesadilla. It will also be available in any item via Taco Bell’s custom menu. Customers are urged to contact local Taco Bell locations to ask about their participation and specific options.
Taco Bell, long one of the few fast-food restaurant chains to offer vegetarian options, has been notably slow to embrace the meatless meat craze. The company first announced it was teaming up with Beyond Meat in early 2021, and it has since tested out its own proprietary plant-based options; however, it has not gone full-steam ahead with a national option yet. The Beyond Carne Asada Steak could change the game if the demand is there. The product is “certified vegan,” according to Taco Bell, although the chain points out that some of its restaurants fry both animal-based and non-animal-based ingredients in the same oil, so eat with caution and ask first.
Beyond Meat has had a challenging week to say the least. Its chief operating officer was reportedly arrested in a bizarre altercation the weekend, and shares of the company hit record lows on Monday as market watchers anticipated another aggressive rate hike from the Fed. Inflation-weary consumers have been cutting back on spending, as committing to a plant-based diet is not always cheap. The Beyond Carne Asada Steak won’t solve Beyond’s problems as a company, but it sure is a delicious example of what it can create as a brand.